November 09, 2015

India: Modi bites the dust - Bihar did not fall for sectarianism (Edit, The Tribune, 9 Nov 2015)

Editorial in The Tribune, Nov 9 2015
Modi bites the dust
Bihar did not fall for sectarianism

In the end, the people of Bihar decided to repose their faith in Nitish Kumar, a low-key efficient administrator with a sympathetic ear for the socially disadvantaged, over Narendra Modi's promise of a reliable caretaker who under his benevolent watch would banish poverty and unemployment. Modi thought he had patented the winning formula. Polarise people on religious lines, taint opponents with taunts on national security, import leaders of castes absent in the BJP quiver and give high decibel appearances at manicured rallies. That had delivered Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana. But that was in the first six months of the Modi Government. Delhi delivered the first warning that the fever was subsiding. Arvind Kejriwal trumped Modi's barnstorming because his nominated leader so blatantly lacked a reputation for social empathy.

Bihar was going to be equally bad. The Sangh squad had no designated chief minister while the BJP's Delhi durbar leaders caused confusion by hinting at their respective local acolytes. Even as Modi’s promise of delivering an economic miracle was beginning to sound hollow, his ideological chief knocked out the social justice plank by speaking in favour of dereservation. In response, Amit Shah and his colleagues tried to consolidate votes by delivering a string of statements that were too low brow to mobilise communities across caste lines. And as Bihar began voting, “Dadri” happened. The entire democratic space appeared threatened.

In contrast, the MGB struggled to exorcise the impression of being a perennially squabbling bunch. Mulayam Singh Yadav walked out early and Pappu Yadav formed a surprisingly well-funded party. But the three partners, fighting for political relevance in the state, worked out an amiable seat sharing pact and followed it up by a well-coordinated campaign in which each side delivered a specific message. What followed was a knock-out punch. The challenge for the three MGB partners will be to remain on affable terms. The massive majority raises expectations of Sushasan Babu surpassing his previous stints. Nitish Kumar’s performance in Bihar could determine his acceptability as a challenger to Modi in the next general election.